Best tips, strategies for buying a used instead of a new car

Michael James

Car buyers considering a used instead of a new vehicle can save a lot of money. But buying a pre-owned car not only means a cheaper purchase price, the affiliated expenses — insurance to smaller depreciation — often equate to long-term savings.

But while saving money is good, purchasers of used cars can also get peace of mind if they purchase a certified used vehicle that’s been properly inspected and also has a manufacturer’s warranty. There are fees involved, but the car’s mechanical condition is guaranteed.

New cars have various warranty terms, but if the vehicle had a bumper-to-bumper warranty of 4 years and 50,000 miles when it was new and you purchase within those parameters, it will likely still be under warranty as a used car.


Purchasing a certified used car means different things to different manufacturers. But generally when a car is traded in or returned from a lease, the dealership determines its condition with detailed inspection via a checklist of more than 100 items.

Edmunds.com reports that Volkswagen’s used car certification program has specific criteria: The vehicle can’t be more than five years old and must have less than 75,000 mile on the odometer. Its previous owner also must have driven the car for at least one year. Volkswagen does a 112-point inspection of the car. If the inspection is satisfactory, the vehicle is sold with a limited two-year, 24,000-mile warranty. The used car warranty covers the powertrain, electrical system and air conditioning. Volkswagen also provides 24-hour roadside assistance for two years.

Most other major manufacturers have used car warranties, with similar but varying parameters. Manufacturers offering certified used cars and used car warranties list the program details on their individual websites.

If a used car buyer is purchasing a vehicle from another individual, it’s best to get the vehicle’s identification number (VIN) and then acquire the car’s history via a reputable Internet source.

Carfax.com is perhaps the most popular and easiest-to-navigate web site to acquire a car’s history. For a fee of $34.95, the site provides a complete vehicle history. The report includes information about any accidents or frame damage, title problems, number of owners and service records, among other details.

Getting a mechanic’s opinion of a used car in also recommended by experts. Sites like CarBuyingTips.com also recommends another if taking the used car to a mechanic isn’t an option. CARCHEX will dispatch an inspector to your home or business to inspect the vehicle and test-drive it, if the seller permits. An inspector will not put the car on a lift, but he or she will provide a detailed report.

Used car or extended warranties are available from many companies. But consumer-oriented sites like Bankrate.com warn potential used car warranty buyers to check the details and also consider the expected life the used car. One option is to just save money in car repair account.

Buying a used car, of course, means paying for it. Cash, bank or credit union financing or manufacturer financing are the options. Paying with cash offers the best negotiation options. Financing through an online lender, bank or credit institution is a better option than a manufacturer. It will allow better more diverse comparison shopping and that will mean a better interest rate and simplified purchase negotiations.

Article Last Updated: April 22, 2014.

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